By Marshall Garvey
Ah, the first-person shooter (or FPS for short). What would our video game lives be without it? For all the evolutions in the gaming world over the years, it’s a genre that can never be phased out. If anything, it only seems to mushroom exponentially with each passing year, for better or worse. Call of Duty continues to churn out blockbuster title year after year, while other franchises like Battlefield attempt to one-up it just as consistently. And if you’re more retro-inclined, no gaming hangout of any kind is complete without GoldenEye or Perfect Dark.
But even the broadest genres can be traced to specific ancestors, and one of the key granddaddies of your COD’s and Battlefields (hell, it’s so old it’s even an ancestor to *GoldenEye*) is Wolfenstein 3D. Released 23 years ago today in 1992, it arrived in thousands of PC’s and blasted its way into gaming history like nothing before it. Placing gamers in the shoes of World War II spy William Blazkowicz (get it?), it gave everyone a chance to do live out what they’d wanted to do since seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark: Kill a fuck ton of Nazis.
But the game’s appeal wasn’t limited to that. It pushed the player through level after level of Nazis and their ghastly mutant experiments, each of which had spectacular detail and intense, immersive gameplay more psychologically unnerving than anything previously released. In the words of Computer Gaming World’s reviewer, “I can’t remember a game…evoking such intense psychological responses from its players.” The levels were teeming with collectable items and secret passages, with the then-novel idea of “secret walls” revealing new areas the brainchild of developers John Romero and Tom Hall. And best of all: It all concluded with a battle against HItler himself.
Of course, Wolfenstein 3D wasn’t the first game in the franchise (it was preceded by the Castle Wolfenstein games), and it certainly wasn’t the last, with Wolfenstein: The New Order released just last year and a prequel expansion pack hitting shelves today. But it’s the one that truly changed gaming as we know it. Next time you pop in your favorite FPS, take a moment to salute the original butchery of Nazis and a giant robot Hitler that made it all possible.
And if you needed any further context on how long ago this game was and how much it precedes, when people were popping Wolfenstein 3D into their computers to play for the first time, this commercial was on television: